Mumbai Xpress challenge: auto-rickshaws finish in style

By By Amit Sharma | 14 Aug 2009


The spirit of adventure that brought 27 people from around the world together to drive three-wheeled auto-rickshaws across India finally culminated at Mumbai's JW Marriott on 13 August 2009.

Divided into 13 teams, they braved the city's infamous traffic travelling from Alibag in the final leg of the 2,000-km four-state rally, which brought together adventure sports, cultural exchange and charity in an innovative format.

Now in its fourth year, Mumbai Xpress is an annual event that challenges participants to ride from Chennai to Mumbai in an auto-rickshaw – the ubiquitous, two-stroke vehicles that ferry millions day and night in the towns and cities of India.

"The auto-rickshaw is virtually a national symbol of India, you see it everywhere," says Aravind Bremanandam, managing director of Chennai Event Management Services (CEMS), which organises the event. Talking to domain-b at the finale at the Marriott, he said the inspiration behind the event was as personal urge to mix adventure and sports for charity.

The Rickshaw Challenge is currently CEMS's largest charity endeavour, with new routes and ideas being generated nearly every month. Following the Mumbai Xpress, CEMS will host the Tech Raid, the Malabar Rampage, and then the Classic Run, which brought CEMS onto the scene over four years ago.

The auto-rickshaw, convenient for small city rides, is not built for undertaking long journeys. The small, upright seat for the driver, the tiny wheels running over half broken tracks, and the sheer length of the tour can, at some point, break the spirit of the most intrepid of motorists and travellers.

The participants, young males and women, however braved it all in the Indian heat.

Canadians Christy Denike and Jocelyn Turner, who work for the UN, rode the Mystery Machine. When asked what the hardest part of the tour was, they said the Mysore-Manglore route tested their mettle most. Indian food though was not a problem. ''Riding across the countryside passing through villages was a wonderful experience,'' said Christy.

Also part of the tour was Sharell Cook, who has been blogging updates throughout the journey on her India Travel blog for, the New York Times-owned concern.

Before arriving in Mumbai, the teams were sensitised to potential hurdles - traffic police, swine flue, the upcoming Janmashtami festival, political disturbances, religious tension – but nothing really happened, she writes on her blog.

''We had ear-plugs!'' said Melanie from England, when asked about how she managed the three wheeler that emits high decibel rat-tat noises.

This year saw teams from Australia, Britain, America, Hungary, Spain, and Luxembourg participating, with an almost equal number of males and females. Accompanied by a team of mechanics and technicians, support crew and a baggage van, the teams were rewarded with points for reaching a assortment of goals. The team with the highest points will now go on to take part in the upcoming Caucasian event.

The journey from Chennai to Mumbai passed through Vellore, Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Bhatkal, Panaji, Ratnagiri, Mahabaleshwar, Pune, and Alibag before reaching Mumbai.

The participants also got a chance to check the under-construction school being built by Round Table India, the charity CEMS has tied up with, for underprivileged children. Last year's event had raised over Rs10 lakh. The motorists also visited Round Table India's workshop for handicapped women at Vellore.

The auto-rickshaw, it seems, has found greener pastures. The blog set up for the event informs us that it has become increasingly visible in Britain, with Worcestershire becoming the latest county to grant it a licence and has been in operation in areas such as Brighton town and parts of London.

The rallies organised by CEMS focus on adventure and discovery, with have received support from sponsors like VVD Gold,, and Though focusing on exciting trends in motor sports and adventure tourism and promoting exploration, travelling and live experiences, CEMS also works to promote good relations with the local people and inhabitants of areas the motorists pass through. (Also see: Mumbai Xpress challenge: an amazing race for the clinically insane)

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